By C.W. “Pops” McEwen

(discovered by Chris La Tray)

C.W. “Pops” McEwen is the pseudonym for the authors Rory and Roisin McGarrity, a married couple. While squatting as members of the Cherish Wind Commune on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, they became fascinated with Native American culture, though fearful of the Cheyenne people. So rather than talk and interact with any of the natives, they chose to write about them safely from afar.

For the sake of authenticity and to establish the existence of “Pops,” the couple used a photo of Andy Devine taken on his deathbed.

This first installment in the Blood & Sweetgrass series from 1976 began a franchise that would last for over twenty adventures. CHRIS LA TRAY stole this book from his uncle’s bookshelf, replacing it with a library sale copy of Journey to Ixtlan with the spine turned inward.


A light breeze gathered the thick cloud of marijuana smoke and floated it directly into the path of a mother and her three children. The woman wrinkled her nose and cast a dark glance up the rising slope that ended in the shade of an immense cottonwood. Her expression paled at the sight of the men sprawled there, and she put her hands on the backs of her two smaller children to hustle them forward. She hissed several words to her teen daughter, who loitered several paces behind with a smile threatening her lips. The girl rolled her eyes then quickened her pace in her mother’s wake.

The gang of Gravemakers, seven men and two women, who rested in the shade passing joints and sharing a fifth of Jack Daniels, laughed and jeered. They were a rowdy bunch, aware and reveling in the discomfort their presence evoked in the more wholesome people forced to pass by them on their way to cool off in Frenchtown Pond. It was a community place, on the edge of a small town, just off I-90. Like the locals, these scruffy motorcycle outlaws were here to escape the heat of summer-come-early in western Montana. But unlike the folk splashing at the shores of the small pond in shorts and swimsuits, the bikers made few concessions to the heat when it came to their attire. All wore boots and jeans, men and women alike; some even covered their denim with leather chaps. A couple were shirtless, though most wore T-shirts or stained muscle shirts. They all wore leather vests emblazoned with the red, gold, and black colors of the Gravemakers MC, with their almost comical pistol- and machete-wielding skeleton mascot in an oversized sombrero at the center.

No one dared laugh in passing, however. Only the ignorant or the young even glanced.

If not for the marijuana, it’s likely the stench of their sunburned and unwashed bodies, soured by sweat, oil, and gasoline, would have been the primary assault against the summer air. Still, the reek was not unnoticed.

“Do you never wash,” a quiet voice said, “or did the back alley whores who squeezed you out into the gutter not teach you such things?”

As one, the bikers turned their heads to face the speaker. He was tall, dressed not unlike them in cowboy boots and jeans, and shirtless beneath a vest. His vest was of deer hide, however, with fringe around the bottom seam. Where Gravemaker skin was sunburned and lined, bristling with hair, his was copper and smooth. His long hair, so black as to shimmer blue in the sunlight, floated like a halo in the kiss of wind around him. He crossed his arms over the single bear claw that hung from a cord around his neck, the movement sending ripples of muscles up and down his biceps.

A large silver belt buckle at the front of his jeans was etched in swirling script: Native Pride.

The Gravemakers’ faces froze, incredulous; joints half drawn upon, whiskey in mid-guzzle, laughter dying before it could pass gapped teeth.

The speaker laughed. “Do not look so surprised,” he said. He glanced to the left of the bikers, where their hogs, menacing even at rest, were parked, to a young Indian woman cowering under the watchful eye of another woman in Gravemaker colors. “After all, you cannot expect to take one that belongs with the People and not expect retribution.”

The gang staggered to their feet. One of the Gravemakers took two slow paces forward. He was not tall, but powerfully built; almost rectangular in shape. His hair, streaked with gray, was pulled into a single braid that trailed down his back. Pale, illegible tattoos in greenish-blue etched his chest and arms like a highway map. He spit, only half of the output making it through the patch of beard and mustache that ringed his mouth.

“And just who the fuck are you?” the biker said. “You look like Tonto, but I don’t see no fuckin’ Lone Ranger.”

The Indian smiled, waiting for the laughter from the biker gang to subside. “My name is Blood.”

“Blood? Is that supposed to scare me? ’Cuz it don’t.”

“It is nothing more than my name.”

“Maybe I’ll call you Buck instead.” More laughter from his companions.

Blood shrugged, his gaze narrowing.

The Gravemaker produced a switchblade from his pocket and flicked it open, the blade glittering in the sunlight. “Well, Buck, you should know, we Gravemakers take what we want, when we want.” A murmur of assent echoed his statement as the bikers produced a clatter of weapons: an assortment from blades to blackjacks to chains.

Blood didn’t waver. “Not from the reservation you do not,” he said.

“You ain’t on the rez no more, Chief.”

The Indian uncrossed his arms and squeezed his hands into fists. Veins bulged, sinews popped. “North America is my reservation.”

With a yell the leader of the Gravemakers hurled his body knife-first at Blood.

Dancing aside as if his Tony Lamas were bare feet, Blood avoided the clumsy charge and with a “Hiiii-YAH!” struck a thunderous blow with his elbow against the back of the biker’s neck. The man skidded face first across the weed-choked ground, the toes of his boots leaving twin trails in the dirt.

With whoops and screams the remaining bikers engaged the Indian; a stomped-up cloud of dust soon obscured the action.

Blood was a cyclone of fury, a dust devil of destruction beyond the abilities of the gang of simple brawlers. He exceeded anything they had faced or even seen before. Their lack of organization worked against them in their first rush to attack, and Blood took full advantage of it. His fists and elbows struck like hammers, his knees and feet like cinderblocks. He eschewed picking up any of the more lethal weapons being wielded against him, even though he had ample opportunity to do so. In fact, a large knife was sheathed at his back, though his grip never strayed to its carved-antler hilt.

In moments it was over. The bikers littered the ground surrounding the tree, men and women alike, moaning in pain or unconscious. Streams of gory red seeped from noses, lips and foreheads, and several limbs were bent at unnatural angles.

The Indian called Blood stood a moment, his hair streaming behind him, chest heaving, sweat glistening, surveying the battleground. Satisfied, he turned and strode to the young Indian woman who now stood near the motorcycles. She watched him approach with wide eyes and quickening breath. Her face spoke of youth while her body, in hip-hugging bell-bottom jeans and a denim halter top, declared her woman.

Blood gently took her chin between his fingers. He turned her face—angular, beautiful—from side to side to check for damage. “Are you hurt?” he asked.

“I am not injured,” she said.

“Did they …?”

“They did not,” she said. “They said something about a party tonight, though. That … that I should be ready.”

Blood nodded, rested his hand on her shoulder, and then pointed toward the parking lot thirty yards distant. “You’ll see my truck there. Wait for me.”

At each motorcycle Blood gripped any wires he could and yanked them free, immobilizing the gang’s means of transportation. He then moved through the fallen bikers and searched their bodies, throwing small handfuls of marijuana and pills into piles all around them and tossing aside weapons. He faced the growing crowd of people who had left the shores of the pond to bear witness to the mayhem. One boy began to clap, then a girl, and finally the adults joined in. Cheers followed.

Blood held up his hand but did not smile. “These bikers are criminals!” he said as the applause died away. “And they will not be down long. Whoever has the fastest car, or lives nearest, should go and call the police. There are enough drugs here to have them all in jail.”

“I’ll do it!” a man said. With a serious look on his face he ran toward the parking lot.

Blood turned and saw that the woman he had saved had not followed his instructions. Instead she stood over the biker leader, staring down with an angry look in her eyes. The man sputtered at Blood through gritted teeth. “You’re dead, Buck. You’re one dead fuckin’ Injun!”

For the first time Blood drew his knife, then kneeled beside the biker. He held its point just before the man’s eye, dangerously close to piercing the orb. “Remember my face, white man,” he said. “And make sure you describe it well to your friends. Because if I see any of you again, there will be war. See me first and run. You may live.” He grabbed the man’s ponytail and then with a jerk of the hair and a sweep of the blade cut it free. Finally Blood reversed the angle of the blade and struck a heavy blow with the hilt against the biker’s temple, knocking him back to unconsciousness.

Blood stood. The girl looked at him with wonder. “I have heard about you, Blood,” she said. “I would have thought you’d kill him. I would have thought you’d kill all of them.”

Blood looked away. He looked at the victims of his wrath, then at the faces of the crowd still watching him with admiration and fear. He turned his dark eyes back to the young woman. “On another day, yes, they would pay with their lives. But not today.” Sirens kicked up in the distance.

“I would kill them,” she said.

“Not here,” Blood said. “This is a place for families.”

Blood pulled his battered red ’64 Ford pickup off at the truck stop at the intersection of I-90 and Highway 93. From there it was only a short drive to the southern border of the reservation. The girl went to the restroom to wash her face and hands. Blood bought a foam cooler, a bag of ice, a 12-pack of RC Cola, and two Snickers bars. He stood outside waiting for her, leaning against the bed of his truck, sucking down an RC and munching one of the candy bars.

He turned the can in his hand. It was some special edition. MLB All Stars. Rod Carew, Minnesota Twins.

Blood knew there were still many proud, brave Indians in Minnesota.

The sun was angled slightly to the west. The rays beat against the asphalt until it softened, the heat reflecting off its surface. Blood closed his eyes, feeling the heat of the truck’s metal against his back, then the trickle of sweat that traced the length of his spine until it gathered at his belt line.

Traffic on the highway was a steady rush and rumble. A trucker rode his jake brake as he slowed, then turned into the lot, sputtering toward the diesel pumps, the noise more like a train than anything else.

When Blood opened his eyes the girl was approaching. She’d pulled her hair back and tied it in a loose braid. Her face was clean and fresh, her eyes large and dark. The girl was more young than woman, but Blood could appreciate the curve of her hips, the budding fullness of her chest. She came close and stopped in front of him. Blood offered her a Snickers. She peeled the wrapper halfway off, her eyes never leaving his face, then slowly eased the bar into her mouth and bit off a chunk. More sweat burst from the pores all over Blood’s body as she licked a smear of chocolate that had caught on her lip. He turned to hide the flush of his face and dug into the cooler for another soda. He glanced at it, then handed it to her.

“It is a George Brett.” He looked away, embarrassed. “I got a Rod Carew.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“We should get going,” Blood said. “I have a safe place I can take you.”

The two climbed back into the truck. Blood ground the gears pulling back onto 93, then turned north up the long climb that topped out at the reservation boundary.

“How did you even know about me?” the girl said, her arm out the window, her hand held into the wind so that the speed of their passage forced it up and down, up and down. “That those bikers had taken me, I mean.”

“I have eyes all over the reservation,” Blood said.

“More like mouths.”

“Mouths?” Blood said, glancing in her direction.

“Yes, my big-mouthed aunt. She works for The Colonel.”

“You should not talk about her like that,” he said. “If not for her, you would likely be dead.” He stared directly at her. “Or worse.”

Minutes passed in silence but for the wind blowing through the open windows, the big tires whining over the highway. “They are planning something,” she said. “Something big. Something to do with the powwow.”

“That starts in two days. How do you know this?” Blood said.

“I heard the bikers talking about it. They made some kind of deal with The Colonel.”

Blood frowned. His face flushed dark. “I knew it would come to this. It is time I had a smoke with The Colonel.”

“I will help you.”

Blood shook his head. “You are brave, Daniela, but such is not for you.”

The girl laughed.

“Did I say something funny?” Blood said.

“No one calls me that.”

“Calls you what?”


“What do they call you?”

She moved closer and leaned into Blood’s ear, her lips barely touching the lobe as she said, “Sweetgrass.”

Night settled over the hulking log building with the large sign that read The Colonel’s Trading Post. Night lights came on. The occasional car pulled off the highway and coasted onto the concrete pad between twin sets of gas pumps. Others pulled up in front of the building to shop at the small store for snacks and sodas.

In the lot across the highway, more lights glowed, creating pools of shadows among the dozen small shacks that advertised FIREWORKS. Days away from July 4th, the Bicentennial, a steady stream of cars pulled into the lot, even as others pulled out and headed back toward the city, away from the reservation, their illegal booty stashed in trunks and backseats.

A dark van eased into the parking lot of the trading post, away from the booming fireworks business, and disappeared behind the building. Minutes later a short, fat Indian woman exited the front of the store, lit a cigarette, then immediately threw it into the lot before going back inside.

“There is the signal,” Blood said, putting aside a pair of binoculars. He waited in his truck off to the side of the makeshift fireworks lot. “Are you almost finished back there?”

“Almost,” Sweetgrass said. Her fingers worked at his hair, weaving it into a tight braid. At intervals she removed something from the dash board, something that glittered briefly in her fingers, something she weaved into his braid.

“Finished,” she said.

When Blood opened his door, Sweetgrass put her hand on his arm. “Let me go with you,” she said.

He shook his head. “If those people leave, and I do not come back, you must warn the reservation. If I cannot stop them, it will be up to you.”

“Someone needs to watch your back.”

“You will be.”

Colonel Judge Officer did not like to be threatened. And he was being threatened.

The Colonel was a large man, even seated behind his desk. He wore a white cowboy hat with twin braids hanging over each shoulder. A stylish tan western blazer covered his ample frame. His features were strong, if gone to fat. Two massive Indians stood behind him on either side, arms crossed, looking fierce.

The Colonel dragged on a cigarette, and then tapped the ash into a tray overflowing with butts.

Across the desk a man in a wheelchair continued to speak. “After all, Colonel, you said you could take care of things. This shit doesn’t feel like ‘taking care of’ to me.”

“A bump in the road,” The Colonel said. “Nothing more than an inconvenience. There are plenty of women on this reservation; plenty of young, beautiful, and eager women.”

“But my men—”

“Your men acted foolishly. You should be punishing them instead of bringing your complaints to me!” The Colonel roared, half-rising from behind his desk. “They were hardly fifty miles from here and never should have stopped. If they had done as I suggested, we wouldn’t be having this fucking conversation!”

Anger gurgled beneath the surface of the man in the wheelchair’s gaze. Like The Colonel, he was an old warrior, gone to fat. He had a heavy beard, though his head was shaved. He wore the colors of the Gravemakers, and the knuckles of his hands turned white as he squeezed the arms of his chair. Two Gravemaker bikers stood behind him, poised to act with the slightest signal, staring bullets at The Colonel’s statue-like bodyguards.

A tense moment stretched, then the man chuckled, relaxing into his chair. “Officer, you’re right. Goddamn if you are, Judge! We shouldn’t let the actions of a few stupid shitheads derail a perfect fuckin’ deal, now, should we?”

The Colonel smiled, though without warmth. Only his wife called him Officer, and then it was Colonel Officer, and even then only when he demanded it during sex. No one called him Judge. Not to his face, and never within earshot of anyone who may report it. “No,” he said. “We certainly shouldn’t.”

“And the product?”

“On the grounds. Under guard in my trailer as we speak,” The Colonel said.

“Then let’s fucking drink!” The man in the wheelchair reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a flask, chuckling at the flashes of alarm that passed over both Indian bodyguards’ faces as he did so. “To drugs and money and pussy!” he said.

The Colonel produced a flask from his own jacket and unscrewed the cap. “To business.”

They drank.

“And this ‘Blood’ motherfucker,” the man in the wheelchair said. “We don’t have to worry about him fucking with us any more, right?”

“Blood will be … taken care of,” The Colonel said.

The man in the wheelchair nodded. “Who is he, anyway?”

The door at the back of the room burst open in a shower of splinters and wood paneling. The corpses of the two Gravemakers who had been guarding the black van outside flopped on the floor, their throats gruesome, open gashes. A lean, dark form followed them into the room, eyes blazing.

“I am Blood,” he said.

The man spun his wheelchair around to face the newcomer. “What the fu—?”

“Kill him!” roared The Colonel.

All four bodyguards leapt into action. The first came at Blood with brass knuckles; the Indian ducked under the biker’s roundhouse swing and drove his knife up under the man’s ribcage. The force of his blow, and the man’s own momentum, buried the blade so deeply that it emerged from his back; Blood was forced to let go of the hilt or risk having the weight of the man pull him down as well.

The hesitation nearly cost him. The other biker swung a heavy sap. Blood turned away, but still took the blow on the left side of his back. The man was strong, and knew how to wield the weapon; Blood was driven to one knee.

The man raised the sap to strike again; Blood twisted his head in a half-circle, snapping his braid like a whip. The biker cried out and staggered back, dropping the sap and grasping at a spray of blood from his face. Blood came to his feet, wiping away a dripping cut on his own cheek, then smiled wickedly. He lunged at the biker, whipping his head back and forth, swinging his braid so sharply it nearly cracked. The man dropped to a knee, clutching his throat.

Blood didn’t watch him die. He turned in time to see both Indian bodyguards facing him with raised revolvers. The guns boomed in the close confines of the room.

Blood dropped onto his right shoulder and rolled forward, bullets whistling just above him. One struck the side of the gashed biker’s face, ending his death throes with the finality of oblivion.

Blood’s booted foot kicked at the two-handed grip one of the Indian bodyguards had on his pistol, pushing the next shot into the ceiling, while Blood’s other leg swept the gunman’s feet out from under him. The man went down with a crash. Blood let his momentum carry him in a half-circle toward the other gunman. He came up in a crouch, swinging his braid at the assailant.

This man had seen Blood’s hair in action, and sought to defend himself by catching it in midair. He screamed at the folly of his actions when four of his fingers were sheared off just above his knuckles. His thumb hung by a thread of skin and muscle, a razor blade pulled from Blood’s lethal braid still embedded in the meat of his hand.

The revolver the man dropped barely hit the floor before Blood had it in his fist. He fired a single shot into the man’s face, then turned and delivered two more rounds into the prone form of the other bodyguard.

Less than ten seconds had passed since Blood burst on the scene.

The man in the wheelchair looked to The Colonel in time to see a panel sliding closed in the wall, with The Colonel on the other side. Turning back around, the biker saw that Blood had witnessed the same disappearing act.

The man screamed and hit a button on his wheelchair. It leaped forward with a squeal of tires, catching Blood by surprise. The Indian was knocked sprawling to the side. He rolled to his feet in time to see the wheelchair, and its raging occupant, disappear out the shattered door he’d arrived through.

Blood wanted The Colonel, but a quick inspection revealed it would take some time to figure out the mechanism to open the sliding door. Meanwhile, the Gravemaker leader was getting away. Deciding a quick course of action, Blood went after the wheelchair.

Outside Blood could only guess which direction the man had gone. He guessed left, the shortest route around the building, and sprinted in that direction, glancing inside the black van as he passed. Blood came around front of The Colonel’s Trading Post and skidded to a stop: there was no sign of the wheelchair or its occupant. Then the whine of a racing motor grabbed his attention.

The man in the wheelchair had gone the opposite direction from Blood and circled around. Now he was racing across the parking lot toward him. Panels in both arms of the chair dropped open, and the splatter and flare of small arms fire erupted from within.

Blood leapt behind a row of metal garbage cans at the corner of the building. A sharp pain ripped at his lower leg, telling him he’d been kissed by at least one bullet.

The turbocharged wheelchair raced by him, bounced across the field bordering the lot, and headed for the open highway.

The man in the wheelchair did not hear the howling engine of the battered red ’64 Ford pickup. It roared across the highway, barely missed an oncoming motorist, and scored a direct ramming hit.

The wheelchair flew through the air as if it were a football punted by a giant. In midair the man fell from it and bounced on the ground; the Ford’s momentum carried it forward, but even though she stood on the brakes, Sweetgrass could not stop it from grinding the man beneath its wheels. The lurch as the truck plowed over the sudden corpse was enough to make Sweetgrass bash the top of her head against the roof and nearly throw her out the open window.

In seconds it was over. Sweetgrass sat panting at the wheel; the door was pulled open and Blood was there. “Are you alright?” he said.

She nodded. And smiled through the lip she’d bit bloody without even noticing.

An hour later and ten miles away, Colonel Judge Officer watched from a distance as a trailer parked in the vendor area of the powwow grounds burned a bright flame against the night sky. Thousands of dollars, with the promise of thousands more, were going up in smoke, but his expression was passive. He licked his lips, then rolled up the window of his brand new 1976 Cadillac Eldorado and sighed. There would be other deals. And other opportunities to even the score with the man called Blood. The car pulled away, headed north.

Blood watched the same burning trailer, from a vantage much closer. A quick call from a pay phone to a trailer a half mile from the powwow grounds put phase two of the plan in action. A squad of young Indians had swept into the night, quickly overcome The Colonel’s guards—who weren’t expecting any trouble and were half drunk—and seized the contents of The Colonel’s trailer, ostensibly there to sell trinkets to powwow visitors. Instead it was full of narcotics, meant to be disbursed to the crowd, in hopes of converting a whole new batch of thrill seekers into addicts. The Gravemakers would supply the product and The Colonel would share in the proceeds.

A solid plan, but for one thing. They didn’t take into account a man named Blood.

“What are you going to do about The Colonel?” Sweetgrass asked. She stood beside Blood, half supporting him and his wounded leg.

“His day will come,” Blood said. “We will smoke together yet, you’ll see.”

“I intend to be there,” Sweetgrass said. “Just try and stop me.”

Blood laughed. “I have already tried once, and failed. I will not try again.”

He looked at her face, into her eyes, then leaned forward and kissed her. It was a deep kiss, and lingered long.

“You seem eager to try other things,” Sweetgrass said when they came up for air.

“That I am,” he said, his voice husky.

“I would invite you to my house, but my aunt and her big mouth will be there.”

“Then I guess it is time you saw my trailer,” he said.

The pair turned and walked back to the truck. They got in, and Blood pulled away from the powwow grounds. As they pulled onto the dark road that led east, away from the highway and toward the Jocko Hills, Blood said, “At least The Colonel learned one important lesson tonight.”

“What’s that, Blood?”

“He learned,” Blood said, “this rez is mine.”


Chris La Tray is a rocker, a writer, and a wannabe adventurer. His nonfiction writing has appeared in the Missoula Independent, Vintage Guitar magazine, and World Explorer magazine. His short fiction has appeared at Beat to a Pulp; Pulp Modern; the Crimefactory special edition, Kung Fu Factory; Noir at the Bar; Needle: A Magazine of Noir, and the charity anthology Off the Record. His story “Run for the Roses” was the winner of the 2011 Watery Graves Invitational story competition, while his story “Genny Bow” won the 2012 Watery Graves Invitational story competition as well. He lives and travels from Missoula, MT, where folks seem overly impressed by how loud his obnoxious rock band, American Falcon, is. Obviously none of them have aurally experienced High on Fire.

This entry was posted in Fiction and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.